Choral Holidays - Singing in wonderful locations

Posted under: "General Blog Post"

Apr 8, 08:51 PM

Milton Abbey - A wonderful beginning.

Well, the first Choral Holiday of 2011 has been and gone, and I think one can say, without exaggeration, that it was a roaring success. (The roaring refers to the success of the course, not to the sound of the choir).

We all arrived on a crisp Saturday morning, which served to perfectly show off the beauty of the abbey, the school and the surrounding countryside.

The Abbey itself, with it’s high arches and majestic tower, was quite obviously designed to be a full length cathedral, until the dissolution of the monasteries put a halt to building work. But how fortunate we were that this building survived, with it’s quite staggering acoustic.

So, having arrived at the school which, until the mid 20th century was a family owned stately home, I found myself with the keys to our very own cathedral and instructions on which doors to lock at night as we would be left there, in charge of the whole place. This, for me, was was a terrific thrill.

After a welcoming talk from the house keeper, a fire drill and Tea and Coffee, we had our first practice. Some of the singers were more experienced than others, some couldn’t read music at all, but all had received the music in advance along with a CD of their parts and recordings of the works in full, so that they could prepare themselves if they wished. The majority had chosen to do so, so we were off to a flying start.

In each of the practices we tried to find a balance between making sure the correct notes and rhythms were being sung, and trying to immerse ourselves in why the composer had chosen to express the words in a certain way so that we could find our way of genuinely expressing that too.

After about an hour and a half of work, we went for lunch, where we found the most fantastic spread of treats which really set the tone for the catering over the weekend. The children at the school are seriously lucky if what we were served was representative of what they get at mealtimes.

More rehearsing in the afternoon, followed by a lovely walk into nearby Milton Abbas and around the Estate’s lake.

We managed to slip in a quick rehearsal before a dinner of delicious steaks.
One thing I really wanted to do was go back into the dimly lit abbey at night. We did this, singing through the beautiful Maurice Greene anthem: Lord let me know mine end, and finished with the psalm, set to a wonderfully gorgeous chant by Martin How. The acoustic gets even better at night and it was amazing to hear Martin’s exquisite chords melting off into the darkness.

It’s incredible to think that those echo’s, which get smaller and smaller, until we cannot hear them, may still, on some, inaudible level, be echoing around the building, along with the melodies of choirs over hundreds of years.

The evening was spent in the old library, where there was time for wine, reading and chat.

In the morning, after a hearty full English breakfast, it was back to the Abbey for more work. The music was specially chosen to be a challenge but also to be attainable. The Greene caused us a few problems, and those who are not used to singing responses probably found them a bit tricky, but we were making fantastic progress.

A magnificent roast lunch was followed by a final run through then, after a break, the service itself.

We kept this informal, but we sang Farrant: Lord, for thy tender mercy’s sake, as an introit, responses by Richard Shepherd, a Magnificat and Nunc Dimittis by Herbert Brewer in D, the How Psalm and the Greene anthem and finished with the stirring hymn; The day thou gavest lord is ended, with a soaring final verse descant from the sopranos. Then just to finish it all off, Jonathan Hope, our amazing organist gave is an extraordinarily expressive rendition of Bach’s Toccata and Fugue in D minor.

Judging by the feedback forms, I don’t think this holiday could have been more successful. A great start for our new company and, hopefully just a taste of what is to come.




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